For England, what might be considered a unique confederation of medium-sized and small port towns was initiated in Edward the Confessor’s reign and is still valued by these urban communities today. As the name indicates, there were five head ports which together were to provide ship service to the monarch and in return received certain rights and privileges. Four of these five ports were in Kent: Sandwich, Dover, Hythe and Romney. Over time the burden of providing the king with fully manned ships annually became increasingly difficult and to help the head ports other towns became involved, either providing ships or money. Among these ‘limbs’ Lydd aided New Romney, while Folkestone is a limb of Dover. Not all were coastal communities, such as Fordwich for Sandwich and Bekesbourne for Hastings (the only Sussex head port).
Mayor-making or the election of bailiff and jurats has been an important civic ritual at the Cinque Ports from the 13th century. In medieval times, the common horn would have been blown at designated places around the town to call the portsmen to the church to take part in the election. As a warning, at some ports those refusing to take civic office risked having their house pulled down. Even though today these elections no longer take place in one of the town’s parish churches or in the churchyard, the practice ended by act of parliament in the 19th century, such ceremonies remain high points of Cinque Port ritual.